When the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on November 20, 1989 and in July 1990, the African Union Assembly of Heads of States and Governments adopted the African Union Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (CRWC) which Nigeria also signed and subsequently ratified on 23rd July 2003, it was assumed that humanity was appropriately committed to securing its own future.
The uniqueness of the African Charter is that it enjoins State Parties to embrace not only the rights of the child but also the responsibilities towards the child.
Nigeria also did well to have enacted the principles in these international instruments into law on 31st July 2003 as the Child’s Rights Act (CRA), 2003.
However, having been enacted at the national level, the states were expected to formally adopt and adapt the Act for domestication as state laws because issues of child rights protection are on the residual list of the Nigerian Constitution, giving states exclusive responsibility.
State laws inimical to the rights of the child are also to be amended or annulled as may be required, to conform to the Act and to the CRC.
Available data show that by now, the Child Rights Act 2003 has been promulgated into law in 26 states.
The states yet to pass the bill into law are Sokoto, Adamawa, Bauchi, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Borno, Gombe, Yobe, and Zamfara.
This means that millions of children in 10 states in Nigeria still do not have the appropriate legal framework for the protection of their rights. Also, millions of other children in states that have passed the law are not being cared for as they should be because the laws have not been fully implemented.
The CRA incorporates all the rights as well as responsibilities of children and consolidates all laws that provide for the protection and care of the Nigerian child into one legislation.
The CRA 2003 subsumed children’s concerns under four broad categories namely – Child Survival, Development, Protection and Participation (CSDPP). Survival requires good nutrition and health care systems to reduce child mortality and morbidity; development – provision of recreational facilities and affordable education; protection against physical, psychological or moral injury and children’s right to special protection in the context of war or forced migration as with the case of children in IDP camps. Finally, there is participation in the decision–making process.
Notwithstanding, child survival remains a problem in Nigeria as one in every 15 Nigerian children dies before reaching age one and one in every eight does not survive to his or her fifth birthday.
This may be occasioned by poor nutrition and poor access to health care, especially vaccines.
The results of malnutrition are stunting: wasting and underweight; and malnourished children who survive, are more frequently sick and suffer the life-long consequences of impaired development.
According to records, 37% of children under age 5 are stunted, 18 % are wasted, and 29 % are underweight.
On child protection, media reports state that the findings of the 2014 Nigeria violence against children survey conducted by the National Population Commission with the support of the United States Centres for Disease Control and UNICEF, show that approximately six out of every 10 children experience some form of violence.
Furthermore, using Boko Haram insurgency as a lens, UNICEF says it has forced at least 135 children in northeast Nigeria and Cameroun, to act as suicide bombers, almost five times the number in 2016.
This is in addition to their being targeted and exposed to attacks and brutal violence in their homes, schools and playgrounds.
If the figures from the recent farmers-herdsmen conflicts in Nigeria are added, the magnitude is better imagined!
So, in the conflict zones, children have become frontline targets, used as human shields, killed, traumatised, maimed and recruited to fight.
Given this terrible situation, it was a good development that the Lagos State government recently raised an alarm that many children still lacked access to good education, adequate nutrition and quality healthcare.
Certainly, Nigerian children are an endangered specie! This gloomy picture on the plight of Nigerian children shows that there are several issues still confronting Nigerian children, the passage of Child Rights Act in 2003 notwithstanding.
Unfortunately, governments at some levels and people turn a blind eye to the plight of children.
The Lagos State Government should therefore be commended for advocating the prioritisation of children’s rights in national policies and programmes for sustainable socio-economic development of the country, irrespective of where children live or what their circumstance are.
Now that the Lagos State government has done this, all hands must be on deck.
Essentially, addressing the abuses children suffer should be everybody’s business. So, collectively ordinary citizens, policymakers, governments and international stakeholders can play a role.
Since, CRA 2003 was passed at the federal level, it is only appropriate for state assemblies to domesticate same.
Therefore, the remaining 10 states yet to pass the bill on the Child Rights Act into their laws should do so.
The Child Rights Information Bureau (CRIB) and the National Orientation Agency (NOA) should re-orientate Nigerians on the need for every child to survive and thrive, learn, live in a safe and clean environment; be given a fair chance in life; and be protected from violence and exploitation.
The relevant MDAs should raise public awareness; engage the public and mobilise them for action.
They should strengthen cultural attitudes and social norms that support CSDPP.
Also, relevant multilateral and bilateral agencies should continue to support the government and all stakeholders to ensure that children enjoy their rights.
All must work to ensure that the rights of every child, especially the most disadvantaged are guaranteed by responding to that famous and apt call to “leave no child behind.”